We are currently working hard on what we want to see come out of the upcoming Legislative session. There is another edition of Saving Seeds in the works. And this fall we got together with our friends at the Coaliton of Immokalee Workers to make blueberry jam as the first itteration of the Blueberry Jam Cooperative. All of this can only happen if we have the financial wherewithal to do this work. Hope you can add us to your end of the year giving. And thanks for all the ongoing support.
Last Saturday Betsy was in Monument Square in Portland at the March Against Monsanto. The week before that Heather was on the steps of the Maine Supreme Court at the press conference just before Dan Brown’s case was heard. In between those two events two counties in Oregon passed bans on planting GMO crops.
Here is all those events:
March Against Monsanto
I have come here today to speak about the food sovereignty movement. And I will do that in a moment but first I want to tell you a story and toward the end I’ll offer you a solution to the food situation in which we find ourselves.
Back in 2006 I was standing around with some friends at one of our Mud Season Dinners. These are events meant to demonstrate that even in the dark days of February or March there is still enough, entirely local, food to feed a crowd. At that moment we were at the height of our resistance against the animal ID law. This is the USDA regulations that say all farmers who have livestock have to register and tattoo or tag all of their animals with a number and then do all the paperwork that entails. So if anyone gets sick from eating meat, when that animal goes into the churning cauldron that is our current food system, the Feds can trace that animal’s life and provenance from birth to slaughter. Naturally the anarchists, non-anarchist, libertarians and plain old left wing activists, I was chatting with were none too pleased with this development. One of them asked plaintively “What are we going to do?” A good friend of mine, a farmer who feeds thousands of people every year, happened to be standing in the group. He looked at her and said “We’re going to keep doing what we are doing…it’s just going to be illegal.”
And that is the essence of this movement. It is; in the tradition of Suffrage, Civil Rights and Marriage Equality; essentially a human rights movement. We got them out of our voting booths and bedrooms now let’s get them out of our kitchens. We are; by eating fresh local food, sourced from farmers that we know; committing an act of civil disobedience. Like the Palestinians on the West Bank standing in front of their olive trees, we are standing in front of our apple trees, protecting them from the encroachment of a hostile government. They, the government bureaucrats, say they are protecting us from ourselves. They say that we don’t know enough not to eat bad food. They say that a farmer would sell tainted milk or meat or eggs or vegetables to his neighbors and friends. They say that we would feed bad food to our own family and loved ones. Well, let me tell you, the only bad food we are feeding anyone is the over-processed, GMO-ladden, vacant-of-nutrient foods that the big manufacturers shovel our way every day in the chain supermarkets. If you are eating fresh nutrient-dense foods you are going to eat less, because your body is going to crave less. And you are going to be healthier over all. Twinkies just can’t do that.
This is what I call a “just walk away” moment. My favorite kind of civil disobedience. Just as Gandhi lead the salt march to prove to the people of India, and to the British Empire, that they could make their own salt and did not need to remain enslaved to the English salt monopoly, so too we can grow our own food. As Ron Finley of the South Central Garden in LA said so eloquently: “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do. Plus you get strawberries.” and my favorite quote from him: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
So we in the food sovereignty movement offer you the opportunity to take back control of what you eat three times a day. Let the big guys know that they cannot intimidate us into eating rubbish that nourishes neither our bodies nor our souls. Anyone interested in getting a food sovereignty ordinance passed in your own town can speak to me and we’ll get you started.
We need to protect our small farms and farmers. They are the people that feed us. They are also, historically, the people that brought us the populist movement which lead to so much government reform in the late 1800’s. And currently the farmers in Nebraska are one of the major reasons we are winning the fight against the XL pipeline. Farmers are independent, hard working, tough minded folk who see the truth more clearly than most and are not afraid to stand up for what they believe.
So stand with small farmers and farmworkers everywhere and take back your power. Stand up in front of your apples trees or tomato plants or by the side of your local farmer and just say NO. No to GMOs, no to heavy-handed government oversight, no to caving into the intimidation bought and paid for by the folks that make the most money selling us crap to eat. Join the next great civil rights movement. The right to know what is in our food and to eat whatever we damn well please.
“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Wendell Berry
GMO Bans In Oregon
Comments for Press Conference on Supreme Court steps May 13, 2014.
Good morning. I’m Heather Retberg of Quill’s End Farm, a 100 acre farm in Penobscot, a farm where we raise grass—the kind that cows eat– and children, and animals of all sorts.
I am Farmer Brown.
I’m here today because my son told me to speak up even if my voice shakes. I’m here because I believe that food raised by a community, for a community, within a community should be regulated by that community. Local rules for local food. As our food production returns increasingly to decentralized production, so must the decision-making about that food.
I’m here today because five years ago, an inspector came to our farm. He said there were some changes coming. Our license for our farm store wouldn’t be all we needed anymore. We wouldn’t be able to butcher our chickens at our neighbor’s licensed and inspected facility. We would need to build our own. And he had a new word to replace farmer. The state now viewed us as “milk distributors”. Now, THAT required another license, more buildings, more state oversight. Selling milk and chicken in our own community, directly from our farm, would no longer be acceptable without a license.
Why the change?
Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett will today argue that Dan Brown is a public health threat, so long as he has no license. He wasn’t…until 2009. Now the public health is threatened when farmers continue selling food we’ve raised to our communities. There have been no food-borne illness outbreaks from raw milk in Maine. Not one. Not from Dan Brown and from any other farm selling food directly within their community. (The state does not even have the capacity with testing to distinguish between the presence of harmful or helpful bacteria in milk.)
The rule change came without a process including citizen input, without legislative oversight. It came as an “administrative procedure”. Dairy inspection services moved from one division to another within the department of agriculture as…an “administrative procedure”. There was no public health threat. We were re-defined as ‘milk distributors’ as an administrative procedure. There was no public health threat, no legislative oversight, no public input. The Administrative Procedures Act (in Maine, MAPA, Title 5, 8074) may be a root, a law, to learn much more about when you go home. You may also want to look up another law that grants our commissioner of agriculture the authority to enter into agreements—some with financial strings attached– with any corporation or federal agency (in Title 7). These agreements filter down to us…administratively, procedurally. They affect us substantially.
Administrative procedures, not public health threats, are what has brought us here today. The absence of democratic participation in our local food system.
But we didn’t know all that five years ago. We did know that, as farmers and patrons of local food, we had to do something. We came together and drafted the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. We came together to protect our traditional food exchanges, the relationships that come from those exchanges, the way of life we value in our community, access to real food, the resilience of a local economy. The ordinance was four pages. My town of Penobscot voted unanimously to adopt those four pages. And…applauded ourselves afterward. At town meeting.
Now, eleven towns have followed suit, deciding for themselves how they define farmers, patrons, food. No administrative procedure, all public input. Direct participation in democracy. Home rule in our state constitution and statute says that it IS within our authority as communities to protect our health, safety and welfare. Eleven towns have adopted a local law to do just that. Art. 1, Sect. 2 of our state constitution says we have an indefeasible right to reform or change government when our safety and happiness depend on it. Our safety. Our happiness. Our food. Our communities.
So, why are we here today? We’ve been feeding each other this way for a long time. The corporations are scared. The government is acting on those fears.
We found a tool, a dusty tool, of democracy…and used it. We threatened the power structure. So the state sued Dan Brown. They thought they’d found a tender link, but those behind me today are here to show that it is a strong chain.
This court will soon consider these questions. We’ve come today for many reasons: access to food for everyone, to support small farms, to protect rights, to strengthen democracy. We’ve walked a long road to get here.
But there is a weight that lays heavy today as we go into this court. Dan and Judy Brown have been in a 2 ½ year long court battle. For all the different reasons you’ve come today, know that it is a somber day of gravity for Dan and Judy. Be here for all the larger issues at stake, but send your support, the strength of all your hearts together, into the courtroom with Dan and Judy today.
However the court rules on this case, we’ll keep walking this road.
Our own Heather Retberg (and good friend the Honorable Craig Hickman) was at Husson University this past Thursday on a panel about food security. The BDN had an article about the panel. Here is the opening paragraph and a link:
“BANGOR, Maine — Food, what is grown in Maine and how to get it into the mouths of hungry people, was the topic of the day at a Thursday morning panel discussion convened by Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague. The answer — support Maine’s farmers.”
And part of the article was a nice little video from Good Shepard Foodbank. Watch it!
May 12th and May 13th are both big days for Food for Maine’s Future. On the 12th we are co-sponsoring a talk by our friend from the Coalition of Immokalee workers Gerardo Chavez:
Check out the WhyHunger Blog with a great write up about the Farm Labor Reality Tour. Featuring a video of our own Bob and Julie talking about the plight of small farmers every where.
From the post: “The two events are almost 1,400 miles apart, but the two groups continue to stand in solidarity with each other, one year removed from last winter’s Farm Labor Reality Tour. In 2013, Maine farmer Bob St. Peter, co-founder of Food for Maine’s Future and FFD board member, traveled with his family from Maine to rural Wisconsin and Minneapolis to meet with FFD member farmers and learn about the ongoing crisis in small-scale dairy farming–and then down to Florida to walk 200 miles with the CIW’sMarch for Rights, Respect and Fair Food. They were joined on the march in Florida by some of those same Wisconsin dairy farmers, including John Kinsman, on what would turn out to be his final activist trip. The tour aimed to highlight the common struggles faced by all those laboring in the food system and explore how to work together rather than being pitted against each other.
“We will not allow farmers and farmworkers to be pitted against each other,” said Bob at the closing rally of the march on the final day of the tour. “We don’t want to fight over a very small piece of pie. We want a bigger pie.”
This past weekend, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) marched on Wendy’s Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. This is the start of their 10 day “Now is the Time” tour from Ohio to Florida, asking Wendy’s and southern grocery chain, Publix, to pay a penny more per pound for tomatoes, and to buy from farms that ensure labor rights are observed. The CIW is a coalition of famworkers in Florida who pick the nation’s winter tomato crop.
On Saturday, March 15th, the Community Union of Ellsworth invites you to come out and weigh in against low wages at Wendy’s in Ellsworth. (see below and attached)
WENDY, SPARE a PENNY!
For decades, Florida farmworkers have faced sub-poverty wages, wage theft, sexual harassment, physical abuse and more. But today, an historic partnership among farmworkers, Florida tomato growers, and major food companies is building a new tomato industry that respects the rights of farmworkers: the Fair Food Program.
The Fair Food Program consists of a wage increase supported by the additional penny-a-pound paid by corporate buyers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, a verifiable and sustainable approach to ending abuse and ensuring better wages and work conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
Of the five giant fast food chains – McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s – Wendy’s is the only one refusing to join the Fair Food Program.
Join us on
March 15 – Saturday – 11:00 a.m.
at Ellsworth Wendy’s on High St.
We’ll be telling Wendy’s and everyone that
LOW PAY IS NOT OK!
for Fast Food Workers or Farm Workers
Sponsor: Community Union of Ellsworth (find us on Facebook)
Rally info: 667-4877. Info on Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program: http://www.ciw-online.org
“We always hear about the rights of democracy, but the major
responsibility of it is participation.”
PUBLIC HEARING ON NEWLY PROPOSED MILK AND CHEESE BILL ON MARCH 4TH AT
1PM IN ROOM 214 of the CROSS BUILDING.
Public notice is short during this short session, but legislative and
public support for direct sales of fresh, unprocessed dairy keeps
growing. This time around, several Maine Cheese Guild members have been
working on bill language with Rep. Bill Noon (D-Sanford) on LD 1286 An
Act To Allow the Sale of Unregulated Farm-produced Dairy Products at
the Site of Production.
We have worked hard time and again to raise our voices over the last
five years to keep traditional ways of exchanging food legal. Each
time, awareness is raised, more understanding is reached and…we get
It is time for us to once again raise our voice, submit testimony,
attend the public hearing. PARTICIPATE! This bill aims to restore the
legitimacy to small-scale dairies that was stripped away by internal
language changes by the Quality Assurance and Regulations Division of
the Department of Agriculture in 2009. Please read the bill carefully.
Please consider it well. Please raise your voice and submit your
testimony to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
If you can, please attend the hearing in Augusta this Tuesday.”
Committee Info.: Please submit testimony (one page or less is good) to
the clerk of the committee linked on the page: